On The Mountain With Bika



There are no happy endings
endings are the saddest part
just give me a happy middle
and a very happy start.

Shel Silverstein

Our beloved Tibetan terrier Bika passed to her eternal reward one year ago this morning. She would have been sixteen years old in November, which of course everyone will tell you is a fine old age for a dog and you must be grateful for what you had. All of which is true, of course, but the cold fact remains that there is never a good time or age at which to lose a truly wonderful friend. This was abundantly true in little Bika’s case. Her death was truly unexpected, totally unlike anything we had ever imagined, and in this way, I suppose, the end of her life was as mysterious as the whole course of the rest of it had been. 

She had been in perfect health until sometime in her thirteenth year, when an ear infection gradually led to, or at least coincided with, the loss of most of her hearing. But the rest of her was fine, quite vigorous and cheerful as always, and it wasn’t until she was nearly fifteen that she began experiencing trouble with her legs due to osteoarthritis. At that point some shots she received monthly seemed to help her, at least for awhile, and she was able to continue her much-loved daily walks around the neighborhood and even up the mountain opposite our house, activities she adored and which form a central memory for me as I look back upon her now. Those recollections are among the most priceless things I possess. I would gladly give up most of the rest of what I have, as long as I could retain and cherish them. Little persons though they are, dogs can give us so incredibly much.

The day she got sick, little Bika woke up to a sunny cheerful morning to match her disposition and apparent good health. We made a brief trip to the vet, then to the pet shop for some needed supplies, and she leapt in and out of the car with more agility than she had demonstrated for many months. Back home, she had a fine lunch and then lay down for a rest. I did some reading in the early afternoon, and when I opened my door at around three I found that Bika had lost her lunch and had clearly been experiencing intestinal problems. Nothing unusual, it seemed, because such things happen to all of us at times. But by evening she was clearly disoriented. She was having difficulty with her back legs, so that she found it hard to stand up. By then, of course, the vet’s office was closed until Monday, because it was a Saturday evening. We began to be concerned.

All day Sunday she seemed to improve. I planted a tree out in front, and when I came in for lunch I found Bika waiting for me, sleeping peacefully on her little mat by the front door. She had navigated the thirteen steps from upstairs all by herself, but I wondered how she had done it. It seemed a very good sign. She ate nothing that day, but lay down with me on my bed in the mid afternoon while I read. We have some pictures of her taken of there that day, and they are very hard for me to behold: there is a sadness in her big dark eyes, a real suffering I hadn’t noticed at the time. She clearly knew she was unwell, though we wanted so much to believe she would be fine. And she seemed to recover slowly as the day progressed, and even scampered about the house somewhat energetically that evening. But at bedtime she was clearly disoriented again. She kept going out onto the upstairs deck in the darkness to bury her face in the foliage of the strawberry plants which grew there in pots, and to gaze out into the night through the vertical posts of the railing. She seemed to be listening to something, as if someone were speaking to her, and she was intent to hear. Finally I led her to a little bed I had made for her on the floor in a room just a few feet from mine. It was my office, where she had spent many happy years at my feet as I worked at my desk. I kissed her good night and lay with her for some time in the darkness. We planned to take her to her regular vet first thing in the morning. But by first light, when I went in to check on her, I found that she had already expired. We will never know what took her life, or what she experienced at the end. All we have is the comfort of knowing that her illness was short, and that she died in her own warm bed. And there is the treasure of our blissful shared past.

The picture at the top shows Bika as I remember her best: having just scurried down the steep mountain slope above our house on a bright sunlit morning of wildflowers and birdsong about a year before she died. She is flashing that incomparable expression of delight which characterized her better than anything else I can remember. I think of it, in fact, off and on pretty much all day long: Bika blissfully watching a bumblebee dancing sleepily inside a bright orange poppy; Bika sitting on a step in the garden to gaze at iridescent hummingbirds darting among the flowers and soaring into the sky; Bika leaping gleefully through the tall golden grass on the first of what would be many visits to our beloved seaside getaway on the rugged Sonoma coast. Some people say this: that the past is no more, the future doesn’t exist, and that all we have is the present. But to me the present includes both glorious past and a joyous future of reunion as well, and the trick is to live in all three at once, as if all three are alive, which I believe they are.  And it is Bika who has taught me to do this. And I thank her for it. Again and again. 




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